A Ukrainian medic runs through a partially dug trench on the frontline outside Bakhmut on March 5, 2023.
John Moore/Getty Images
UK intelligence suggests Russia’s new offensive is on its last legs, just a month after it began.
Russian forces have depleted their “combat power,” the assessment said.
“Even local offensive actions are not currently sustainable,” it added.
Russia’s new offensive in Ukraine, which began last month, has seemingly fizzled out, based on a new UK intelligence assessment.
In recent days, Russian troops and the Wagner Group’s forces have “obtained footholds west of the Bakhmutka River in the centre of the contested Donbas town of Bakhmut,” the British Ministry of Defense said. But the intelligence assessment added that “more broadly across the front line, Russia is conducting some of the lowest rates of local offensive action that has been seen since at least January 2023.”
The British Defense Ministry said this is likely because Russian forces have depleted their “combat power” to such a degree that “even local offensive actions are not currently sustainable.”
—Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) March 17, 2023
Russia has paid a massive price in soldiers, mercenaries and released convicts in the battle for Bakhmut, which has raged on for months despite the city’s questionable strategic significance.
“Right now, there is intense fighting in and around Bakhmut and the Russians are making small tactical advances but at great cost. Elsewhere, the front line remains relatively static, with significant exchanges of artillery but no significant maneuver gains by either side,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said at a press conference with Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin on Wednesday.
Milley said that Russia is paying “severely in terms of lives and military equipment.”
The Institute for the Study of War, which has closely tracked the fighting in Ukraine, in its latest assessment said that the somewhat slower pace of Russian attacks in and close to Bakhmut suggests that the Wagner Group’s offensive in the area is “likely nearing culmination.”
Russia has pressured Ukrainian defenders with so-called human wave attacks designed to overrun their trenches, and while they and the artillery barrages have exacted a heavy toll it hasn’t been enough to force a full withdrawal. What’s more, Russia has failed to use superior air forces to strike the trenched, defensive network, fearing that close operations would cost them even more aircraft.
There’s been an evolving debate between Kyiv and its Western partners over Ukraine’s insistence on continuing to defend Bakhmut, which analysts have suggested could fall to Russian forces in the coming days. Ukraine has argued that reinforcing its position in Bakhmut will force Russia to exhaust valuable men and munitions in what has become the bloodiest battle in a brutal war of attrition for both sides.
Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses, recently traveled to Bakhmut to observe the fight in person. “Happening in the fight now is that the attrition exchange rate is favorable to Ukraine but it’s not nearly as favorable as it was before. The casualties on the Ukrainian side are rather significant and require a substantial amount of replacements on a regular basis,” Kofman said in an appearance on the War on the Rocks podcast this week.